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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

The Difference Between Violin and Fiddle

The Urban Pioneers splice classical with barn dance



It was a Pittsburgh cop that named The Urban Pioneers, a pair of string musicians on banjo and fiddle who play chugging, simply constructed Appalachian songs with a technical twist.

"The first week we were there we went to the laundry mat and someone stole Liz's phone," explained banjo player Jared McGovern. "When the police officer came to our house to fill out the report he started getting really mad at us because of where we live. He said that we were in the roughest neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He said, 'Do you think you are Urban Pioneers or something?'"

From there, a cross-country trip to pick up an upright bass in Florida morphed into an impromptu tour and the true beginning of the band. The combination of McGovern, a seasoned roots bassist who had just started playing banjo, and Liz Sloan, a classically trained violinist turned fiddler, along with the riff-raff and rotating crew on bass and guitar during tour, the band has a porch-jam spirit. The pair met when they both played backup for prestigious underground Austin roots musician, Bob Wayne. The contrast of McGovern's simple banjo plucking and punky locomotion and Sloan's classical-turned-country sawing is endearing.

"We get lumped into the old time/folk circle, but we also have songs that are clearly western swing or klezmer, or straight up truck driving country," explained McGovern. "We definitely haven't limited ourselves to playing a certain particular style because that is the type of band we are supposed to be."

Sloan grew up entrenched in classical training. It took a debilitating car accident and years of gathering courage to tell her parents that it wasn't the life she wanted. Years later, it took a metal/jazz/noise guitarist from New York to make her pick up her instrument again and shift her style into the hybrid she now plays.

"Eventually I started listening to more fiddlers and picking apart what I wanted to sound like," said Sloan of her past. "I still haven't mastered my style yet and I don't think I will ever be content in one set way to sound. Obviously, my classical training isn't going to disappear from my sound. When I first started 'fiddling' it would bug me out when musicians would comment on my classical sound. Now that I have a few years of experimenting with my sound I appreciate that comment."

Meanwhile, McGovern was listening to Nirvana and learning the rock songs from tabs in the back of Guitar World Magazine.

"I think the contrast of Liz's background and my background makes for a fun contrast in our music. Liz grew up with lots of formal music training and I'm self-taught," said McGovern. "Liz's musical influences come from western swing, classical, and gypsy, and I grew up listening to a lot of punk. I think the mash-up of our different influences makes it to where pretty much anyone can find something in our music that they like. "

Urban Pioneers, with Harley Bourbon and Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil.

8 pm. Thurs., Jan. 29

Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr. $10.

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